More than 246,000 people were treated at hospitals, doctors’ offices, and emergency rooms for injuries related to winter sports in 2015, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. 

• 88,000 injuries from snow skiing 

• 61,000 injuries from snowboarding

• 50,000 injuries from ice skating

• 47,000 injuries from sledding, tobogganing, and snow tubing

Three of the top types of injuries caused by these activities are fractures, concussions and frostbite. More specifically, here are the injuries we see at The Urgency Room during the winter season:

• Broken wrist or fractured tailbone from slipping and falling on the ice.

• Concussions or TBI (traumatic brain injury) from a bump, blow or jolt to the head during ice skating and skiing or snowboarding. Jumps on a sledding hill are also a top cause of head injuries to children.

• Wrist and elbow injuries from falling while snowboarding. A Distal Radius Fracture is a very common wrist fracture that occurs during a fall on a hand stretched out to break the fall. This fracture is often treated with a cast.

• Bennett’s Fracture of the Thumb or Skier’s Thumb occurs as the result of a fall, and people who participate in activities like ice-skating, skiing, and snowboarding are at high risk. Another common injury is skier’s thumb, where a skier excessively stretches out their thumb causing a fracture or a torn ligament. These two injuries usually require surgery to realign the bones and stabilize the joint area.

• Ankle fracture is the most common fracture that occurs with twisting injuries during winter months. These injuries occur when the bones of the ankle sustain injury from a fall or twisting type injury. Surgery is often necessary for ankle fractures to achieve proper alignment during the healing process. 

• Fractures, broken bones and head trauma from skitching- where a person grabs a car’s rear bumper and slides on the soles of the shoes, or is pulled by ropes on inner tubes or sleds through icy streets.

• Fractures and concussions associated with sledding

These injuries happen to those sledding down the hill and anyone in the way of a sled coming down the hill at a fast speed.  

• Frostbite from a variety of activities

Frostbite is an injury that is caused by exposure of parts of your body to temperatures below the freezing point. The cold causes freezing of your skin and underlying tissues. The fingers, toes and feet are most commonly affected but other extremities, including the nose, ears and cheeks, can also develop frostbite. Anyone can develop frostbite but some people are more susceptible including:

- People with underlying health problems such as narrowing of the arteries, mainly occurring in the legs (peripheral arterial disease) or diabetes, you have an increased risk of developing frostbite.

- If you take certain medicines that narrow (constrict) your blood vessels, your risk is increased. Beta-blockers are a good example of this.

- You are more at risk of developing frostbite if you smoke, as the chemicals in cigarettes can cause your blood vessels to constrict.

- You are more at risk of developing frostbite if you have had alcohol or recreational drugs which make you drowsy or behave differently to usual. This is because you may be less aware of how cold you are and less aware that you are in danger. You are then less likely to get out of the cold, or protect yourself from it.

While common sense is one of the best defenses against winter fractures and concussions as well as frostbite, here are a few other steps you can take:

• Always wear a helmet when skiing, snowboarding or skating.

Keep in shape and condition muscles before participating in winter activities. 

• Warm up thoroughly before playing or participating. Cold muscles, tendons, and ligaments are vulnerable to injury. 

• Check that equipment is working properly prior to use. 

• Take a lesson (or several) from a qualified instructor, especially in sports like skiing and snowboarding. Learning how to fall correctly and safely can reduce the risk of injury. 

• Wear layers when it is cold and STAY INSIDE to avoid the two factors that contribute to frostbite: low wind chill and low temperatures. 

• If you are exposed to the cold, make sure that you wear appropriate warm clothing. Mittens are better than gloves. Your head, neck and face need to be covered if it is windy. Wear waterproof clothing so that your body is kept dry. Multiple layers of clothing are best. Layers act as extra insulation by trapping air that warms to your body’s temperature. A warm pair of boots is also needed. You need to increase your fluid intake in cold weather.

 

Dr. Carolyn McClain is medical director of The Urgency Room.

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